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I’ve thought a lot over the years about how we keep and work horses. Even the concept of ‘owning’ a horse, a creature we buy with money and own it as a slave, if you like. (Yes we also see it as a friend and valid partner, of course, but the action of paying money to own its life does seem a bit bizarre when you think about it)…

We decide where it should live, who it lives with, whether it lives a free life out in all weathers or locked in a stable 24/7 and we decide what it should do for us and so on.

We can choose to sell it to whomever we want for an agreed price and away it goes to an unknown new life.

We decide what food it has access to.

We can decide if it should breed babies for us or not.

We even have the decision over its death by lethal injection or a bullet when and how we choose…

These are strange and difficult things to think about and probably not something that could all be happily resolved in the span of a blog!

The above facts become all the more difficult when you realise totally that the horse is a fully sentient feeling emotional intelligent social and sensitive creature just like us… How remarkable that this week in the UK national news the Labour political party is forwarding a motion to create in law that animals should be recognised as sentient. This is not remarkable because they are suggesting elevating animals in law as sentient but the fact that it needs pointing out or putting into law at all FFS!

But today the question that came to my mind in the context of the above is a slightly smaller piece, and that is the idea of ‘making the horse more athletic;’ and ‘working on the horse’s gymnastics!’ As a horse trainer I recognise the ‘benefits’ to the horse as well as to the rider of helping the horse to become more gymnastic in his body, it helps carry out the tasks the ‘owner’ has chosen for him and makes him more capable. It also, ideally, should extend his working life, helping to maintain his body's capability to work and stay well for more years of carrying out the ‘owner’s' wishes.

So here’s the rub, the oddball question in my mind as I put a horse away after a session of ‘gymnastics’ in the riding arena… “What right do I have to choose to make this horse do stuff to become stronger or more flexible in his body?” …And “what are his rights?”

Please don’t think for a moment that I have the answers to any of this, but probably like many of us, I have work-arounds, justifications or rationale for why it’s ok for me to make another sentient being work his body such that it becomes more muscled and ‘gymnastic’ to better suit my purposes, after all, I am the owner!… And it is better for him too!

Despite holding these difficult questions in my heart and mind and not necessarily having the definitive answers, as it stands at the moment I’m not about to suddenly stop doing what I am doing with my horses…

So if I’m aware of these difficult questions about the horse’s rights etc but I’m not going to stop ‘training’ my horses, what can I do to make it more ok for the horses and for me?

Here is the start of a list of ideas, I’m sure you can add some more of your own:

  1. Be really nice!

  2. Be as empathic as I can be to the horse’s position and feelings (be in his shoes).

  3. Take a lot of time over everything, i.e. approach the horse and our work with infinite patience.

  4. Be aware of the horse’s struggles: fears, physical limitations and his mental understanding of what I am trying to achieve.

  5. Acknowledge the horse’s individuality and respect him for his unique Being.

  6. Be the best person I can be emotionally, i.e. keep my own emotions in balance at all times (that’s a good challenge).

  7. Put the partnership with the horse before my goals and ego.

  8. Be the ‘best’ rider I can be, develop and hone the physical skills, body control, balanced seat, light hands etc and keep working on those things forever.

  9. Aquire and put into practise as much relevant knowledge of the subject of horsemanship and riding theory as possible.

  10. Ask for little and be happy with it.

  11. ‘Reward’ a lot. (I’ll write a blog on that subject very soon).

  12. Be as physically fit and gymnastic as I need to be so as not to burden the horse with my own body limitations.

  13. Do everything with love and respect.

  14. Be a best friend!

  15. Any more???? I bet there are loads, but this is a start…

So there we have a few ways to rebalance the question of “what right do I have?” and “what rights do the horses have?”

I hope it troubles you a little, as it does me… I think it should trouble us, at least into thinking about how we are around our horses.

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